An Unlikely Partnership Recycles 1.3 Million Glass Bottles Destined for Landfill

Glass News,

A rural Pennsylvania glass bottle manufacturer and an elite New York City beverage company are two ends of a supply chain story that worked collectively to keep 1.3 million cobalt blue glass bottles out of the landfill in a great glass recycling success story.  

In early 2021, the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) was alerted of more than a million empty cobalt blue wine cooler bottles soon to be evicted from a warehouse location in Bath, NY. Over eight weeks and many strategy sessions later, those bottles landed at Ardagh Group’s glass manufacturing plant in Port Allegany, PA, as recovered glass ready to be recycled into new containers. And how they got there is quite the tale.

Stacked floor to ceiling, Pinnacle Rental Centers of Bath housed nearly 500 skids of never-filled Mxy Fusions Moscato bottles. Myx is co-owned by music mogul Nicki Minaj.  Since the bottles were unfilled, the New York state $0.05 deposit was not applicable, rendering that avenue for landfill diversion a dead end. Pinnacle cast a wide net in attempts to get the material into the bottle-to-bottle recycling stream, ultimately landing on the desk of Scott DeFife, President of GPI and the Glass Recycling Foundation.

“The Glass Packaging Institute is committed to promoting glass recycling,” said DeFife. “This seemed like a complicated, but solvable, problem if we could just get the right stakeholders aligned.”

That volume of recycled cullet of any color glass is desirable for bottle manufacturers, yet cobalt blue production is somewhat of a niche market.  One option emerged that would take the cullet via rail to Texas, but the economics of the first mile(s) out of the warehouse proved cost-prohibitive, where the outlay for trucking and de-casing were too great during the height of labor shortages and increased fuel pricing.

DeFife reached out to Prism Glass Recycling (Prism), a division of Erie Management Group, that was recently awarded a grant from the Glass Recycling Foundation for a glass recycling drop-off program in Erie County, PA. The proximity to the Pinnacle warehouse near Bath made Prism a commonsense logistical choice. Laura Guncheon, Vice President, project management office at Erie Management Group, is a Port Allegany native and learned of an upcoming July 2021 cobalt batch at Ardagh. Guncheon then contacted Campbell Trucking in Galeton, PA, a local trucking company familiar with the territory, who didn’t bat an eye at the challenge of moving a 500-skid count.  

Next came the effort to find a glass processor to turn the whole bottle material into furnace ready cullet. A small processor near Ardagh didn’t have the capacity to process the volume of bottles within the time constraints, and the processing puzzle piece remained elusive.  Prism then connected with Central Recycling Cooperative of Horseheads, NY, a mere 40 miles from the Pinnacle warehouse. Prism worked with Don Johnson, operations manager of Central Recycling Cooperative, to transport the bottles from Pinnacle starting June 2 and finishing by month’s end.

“It was a remarkable juxtaposition of people, places and time,” said Guncheon. “Ultimately, an exercise in logistics led to hundreds of tons of glass material finding life again in new bottles.”

John Sadlier, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ardagh Group, offered, “Ardagh Glass Packaging is proud to collaborate with our peers and partners to achieve a more circular economy. As we all work toward raising the glass recycling rate in the US, we believe this will have a huge and beneficial impact for our planet.”

Increasing volumes of post-consumer recycled material is at the forefront of sustainability goals across the glass industry.

“Our industry needs more quality glass cullet to recycle into new containers– this saves energy, employs people, and is better for the planet,” said DeFife. “This story could be happening in other communities, and we want to make people aware that unique partnerships like this can help to recover and recycle more endlessly recyclable glass.”

Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. Glass has always been recycled in North America and made into new bottles. Recycling glass relies on quality glass, transportation logistics, and domestic end markets to complete this essential circular economy story.